15th July 2020: The Loneliness and the Scream

15th July 2020: The Loneliness and the Scream

Dear Edith,

Last week we achieved something that under normal circumstances would have happened weeks ago: our first trip out.

Okay, so technically we’ve been out to get your jags, and we went to the hospital to get your hip scan done when you were only a few weeks old. We’ve been to Granny’s house and for a walk round the park, but this was the first time we’d gone out somewhere for more than an hour.

More importantly, it was the first time I’d taken you anywhere on my own.

A classic Armstrong family outing memento.

We went to a little village not far away to meet up with some other mums. I’d knew one of them a little from WhatsApp, but for all intents and purposes I was heading out to see people I’d never met or really spoken to before.

It was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve done since I had you.

No matter what anyone – including your dad – thinks, I am not an extrovert. I’m really good at talking to people I don’t know at Magic: the Gathering events, but I usually find myself in a group with people I do know well when that’s happening, and it’s much easier to talk to new people when you have some friends to bounce off. I am not at all good at meeting people for the first time when I’m on my own.

Going out and meeting new people would have stressed me out on its own. Taking a little baby out on my own for the first time on top of that had me a nervous wreck.

As usual when I get freaked out about something, it was completely fine. You were absolutely perfect. You had a wee bit of a cry when we were sitting on the grass, but I expected that – you’ve never been a baby who sits and looks around, you need to be entertained in some way. You fell asleep looking out of the pram when we walked to the coffee shop, which was a little hole in the wall because of COVID-19.

It was needed. Not so much by you, because you’re still too little to understand, but by me.

One of our earliest (solo) adventures.

I have two lockdown modes. I either blitz through tons of stuff in a day until I’m knackered, and the sense of achievement fuels me and I don’t stop and think about what’s going on in the world and what’s going to happen in the future and I go to bed full of positivity and accomplishment.

If you’re unsettled or I’m tired and we achieve absolutely nothing other than getting through the day, that’s when the dread kicks in. It’s not so bad now that you’re a little bigger and you can interact with us a bit (we can make you smile now! It’s so much fun) but it’s really, really monotonous having a baby in lockdown. The other day I was getting ready for bed after an Off Day and suddenly time just gaped out in front of me. I don’t know how long it’s going to be before things get even close to being back to normal. I don’t even know what “normal” is going to look like.

I can see why baby groups are a thing. I love you more than I ever thought I could possibly love another human being, but lockdown has reduced our life to a carousel of making bottles and changing nappies and rotating you between my knee and the Mamaroo chair and the play-gym on the floor to keep you entertained. When I do get out of the house now it’s mostly to Granny and Granda’s, and we start again – just in slightly different surroundings.

There have been times when I’ve been so exhausted by human interaction that I’ve cried at the end of the day, but I didn’t realise until now that not having any was just as bad. Talking to other mums made me feel human again, and for the first time I felt like I could breathe again. The other day we had a spontaneous visit from some friends and we all sat in the garden and drank coffee and I was a brand-new human being at the end of it.

Whatever comes next, I’m glad that opportunities to connect and reconnect are starting to come up. For you they’ll be photos to show you when you’re older, or faint memories, but they’re the flicker of hope that’s keeping me going when everything is too heavy.

Dear other mums in this situation,

Solidarity. I know that having a baby completely throws every single aspect of your life off-kilter and the pandemic and lockdown has removed everything that was designed to keep us anchored. It’s been the most emotionally turbulent few weeks I’ve ever had, because having a baby is so great but I’m also grieving the things I would have been doing under normal circumstances. It’s really hard for, as a chronic introvert, to express exactly why I have such a strong desire to meet and talk to other mums. Even if it’s not to discuss baby stuff.

I know reasonably that I was in no fit state to take Edith to baby sensory or baby massage or any other groups like that in the first few weeks. I had a traumatic birth and an emergency section and the recovery from that took up what little energy I wasn’t pouring into keeping a tiny human alive. Even so, the grief for the experiences I haven’t had with my first born is stronger than I thought it would be.

In conclusion: I see you. I know we’ve been robbed of experiences and introductions and being able to see our family with our newborns. I know the sadness of being handed a list of baby groups and resources at arm’s length when you haven’t seen past the front window for weeks. I know that it’s a loneliness that isn’t even remotely comparable to anything that’s come before it.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know what things are going to look like when we reach it, but it’s there. Hang on, mama.

June 6th 2020: Things That Matter

June 6th 2020: Things That Matter

Dear Edith,

You’ll learn as you get older that summers in Scotland are incredibly unpredictable. It can quite easily go from pouring rain and “Mum’s taking a hot water bottle to bed” to temperatures that are hotter than parts of Spain.

This weekend just past a big heatwave coincided with Scotland beginning to relax some of the rules around the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Non-contact sport is starting back up (and your Granda’s already had at least two rounds of golf), garden centres are opening and we’re allowed to hang out and sunbathe in parks.

The most exciting thing, though, is that you’re allowed to socialise with people again, provided you observe proper social distancing and do it outside.

And that means your Auntie Megan could come and visit.

One of the hardest parts about being pregnant in a pandemic was knowing that when you were born the first few weeks were going to be nothing like we’d planned. I remember out of nowhere having a massive crying fit a few weeks before you were born because it hit me that your auntie wasn’t going to be able to see you when you were tiny and new, and it really upset me. We had no idea how long the restrictions were going to be in place and how long it would be before she’d be able to come and visit. I sat in the bathroom and cried so hard your dad heard me from downstairs.

It wasn’t how I envisaged you meeting, but I’m so glad that you did get to meet while you’re still a baby. Hopefully as things get better we’ll be able to see family further afield – you have family in Plymouth, in Derby, in the Highlands who are all dying to see you. Photos will do for now, but it’s not the same. You are so loved already.

There’s a lot going on in the world. Americans are currently protesting and rioting after a police officer in Minnesota killed an unarmed black man eleven days ago by kneeling on his neck for nine minutes. You’ll learn – because I will teach you – that black people in America (and elsewhere) have faced years of oppression, injustice and indignity. There are “Black Lives Matter” movements all over the US, from Minnesota to California to New York and Seattle. The protests are mostly peaceful, and the violence largely stems from the police response, which is indiscriminate, violent and terrifying.

I hate the world that I’ve brought you into, and at the same time I watch the tide starting to turn with some small amount of hope.

I hope I can raise you to be unafraid, to be able to stand up to people with racist or homophobic or transphobic or sexist views whether they’re strangers or friends. The latter is often hardest, but it’s also the most important.

To be able to question what you see and realise that sometimes things aren’t as cut and dry as they appear, and to be able to take circumstances into account before you judge.

To be as angry as I am when you see injustice and cruelty and inequality, and to be as motivated to do something to help.

But most importantly, to have empathy and love and compassion and a drive to make the world better for people who don’t have our privileges or circumstances. Because that’s what’s going to change the world.

May 28th 2020: Learning To Stop

May 28th 2020: Learning To Stop

Dear Edith,

You’re six weeks old! Yesterday we had a big milestone: you and I went somewhere on our own. Granted it was the hospital for a hip screening ultrasound, because being ten days overdue put you into into a higher risk category, but even so.

I was pretty nervous about it because I had visions of you needing your nappy changed or a bottle and having to try and juggle a screaming, uncomfortable baby in a public place completely by myself, but you behaved impeccably, your hips are fine and we all left happy.

(Incidentally, the Dreaded Dirty Nappy occurred and was dealt with in the car park of Asda on the way. Stripping and changing a baby in the back seat of a Honda Civic for the first time was another surprise milestone.)

It wasn’t a hugely enjoyable experience for either of us.

I knew in some part of my brain that babies grew and changed quickly, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how different you’d be every single day. You sleep a bit longer at night. You make a slightly different noise when you’re lying on the changing mat kicking your legs. There’s a little less of your fluffy baby hair.

We’re getting into a rhythm. You don’t sleep particularly heavily during the day, so from the time I get up until the late evening it’s a blur of bottles, nappies and walking around the room singing whatever comes into my head. In between those there’s laundry to do, bottles to wash, things to tidy that I’ve thrown down in a hurry because you need changed or fed or another round of Row Row Row Your Boat.

I’ve really surprised myself with how much I enjoy it. I’ll be filling the kettle to make you a bottle and I’ll suddenly think wow, this is great.

Around 10pm you fall asleep and I can gingerly put you into the pram, where you stay for a good two or three hours until you wake up hungry. And, as much as I enjoy being a mum, I really, really enjoy those two or three hours too, because I can just sit. I write these letters. I turn the Playstation on and zone out. I read, I scroll through social media. Sometimes I don’t do anything at all.

The days are everyone else’s – yours because you need me, your dad’s because he works here at the moment and needs to be able to do it in (relative) peace, other people because I feel like I need the housework to be done in case people think we’re lazy or a bunch of slobs. But the nights are mine, and I relish them.

For that past couple of nights, though, I’ve been tired. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve hit a point where I can’t be replenished after a full day with three hours of video games. I sat on the sofa tonight after you’d eventually dropped off and thought about tomorrow and my entire body completely rejected the idea of getting up in a few hours and starting again.

I’ll feel better once I’ve had a sleep, but right now I am fatigued and tomorrow seems like an impossibly large mountain to scale.

We took you for a walk today. It was a hot, cloudless day and you slept from the moment the fresh air hit you. When we got back, I wheeled the pram into Granny’s back garden and parked it on the patio, expecting you to wake up and start squirming as soon as I stopped. But you didn’t. In fact you didn’t even twitch.

Delighted, I considered the possibilities. If all it took for you to settle was to be outside, if you slept in your pram in our front garden, I could weed! I could paint the fence! All those things I thought I’d do at some point whenever I looked out of the front window, perhaps they’d finally get done.

I mentioned this to Granny, and she said “you don’t always have to be doing something” and as stupid as it sounds, it was a revelation.

I realised that every time you’re peaceful, whether it’s in the Mamaroo or sitting with Dad for a moment, I’m looking for something to fix, as if you’re a little tornado ripping through the house rather than an infant. It’s like I’ve geared myself up for how much work babies are so whenever I’m NOT busy it feels wrong. I feel lazy.

I think what I keep forgetting is that even if I’m not constantly moving, having a baby IS hard work. I’m not even talking about physical effort – you pour everything you have mentally and emotionally into every waking moment. You’re awake quite a bit so there’s a lot of singing and bouncing you on my knee and reading the Gruffalo while you wriggle about like a fish and desperately trying to think of things to amuse you. By the end of the day I’m pretty sure when I try to talk a Windows shutdown noise from the 90s comes out of my mouth instead.

Currently there’s cat hair on the side tables, I haven’t used the hoover for at least a week and I don’t even know what’s at the bottom of the pile of stuff on the dining table, but maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s OK to sit and read a couple of chapters of a book or play a game on my phone for a little while. Maybe I should finish that cup of coffee that sits permanently cooling on the table.

Maybe I work give myself credit for, and it’s OK to slow down.